There's a new group working to create permanently affordable housing in the Tri.
Tres Ríos Community Land Trust (CLT) was incorporated in January as a Washington State nonprofit. CLTs are a housing model that has been around in the USA since 1970.
According to Community-Wealth.org, “Champlain Housing Trust in northwest Vermont [is] the largest Community Land Trust in the U.S. with over $223 million in assets under its stewardship. The nonprofit also provides homebuyer education classes, offers loans for repairs and energy efficiency work, and develops residential and commercial properties—work, that in 2009 alone, provided 260 construction jobs.”
In 2019, Misma Gabobe wrote in a Sightline Institute article that “CLTs first cropped up in Cascadia 45 years ago, and today the region holds around 2,365 CLT homes run by 18 different CLT organizations in urban and rural communities.”
The median home price in Benton and Franklin counties is $336.5K. More than 16% of homebuyers spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing. Remarkably, about 37 percent of homeowners earn less than $35K per year. But at least buyers are accruing wealth, and may get a mortgage tax credit.
For many local renters, the tight 3.2% vacancy rate leaves them at the mercy of landlords. The fair market rent for a two-bedroom apartment is around $1000. According to Benton-Franklin Trends, nearly 5,000 households, almost 15% of renters in our counties, are spending more than half their income on rent. Another 42% are spending more than a third. The 2021 federal poverty level for a four-person household is $26,500. Financial advisors would suggest they shouldn’t spend more than $662 on housing, including utilities, per month!
“With all these numbers in mind, the opportunity to create affordable housing for more people in our community is critical,” said Pierre Saget, one of the Tres Ríos founders. “As a person with a disability, access to and location of an affordable home directly impacts my quality life and ability to contribute to society.” Saget and I (Ginger Wireman) have been researching the concept of a community land trust in our area for nearly two years.
Tres Ríos CLT’s goals are to:
- Be a democratically, anti-racist and inclusive organization that engages people traditionally left out of home ownership and wealth building
- Supply decent, permanently affordable housing choices for people in the Mid-Columbia region
- Build community wealth and improve quality of life by turning more people into homeowners, and removing the instability experienced by many renters
- Create affordable residential and mixed-use properties in our urban centers where owners, tenants, and customers can reasonably participate in daily life without the burden of owning multiple vehicles (e.g. near transit routes, schools, and businesses)
- Construct live-work spaces that are affordable for small, independent businesses
- Offer both clustered and decentralized housing to low and moderate income earners, seniors, veterans, and persons with disabilities
- Cushion against exponential fluctuations and speculation in real estate.
Pierre did the heavy lifting, examining founding documents from other CLTs, attending training events, and talking to attorneys. I mostly provided moral support and networking.
Founding member Jade Zaher is overseeing the technical side of things as the website developer, and is hoping this initial effort leads to other community wealth-building opportunities like Permanent Real Estate Cooperatives. A PREC simultaneously decommodifies land, enables community control for structurally excluded communities, and disrupts root causes of racialized inequality. The group commissioned its logo from local artist DavidV35.
In the long run, Tres Ríos plans to offer both rental housing and the sale of single-family homes to people in the low- to moderate-income bracket, seniors, and the disabled. Gabobe’s Sightline article explains the trust concept clearly: “For ownership, the CLT owns the land and the resident owns the home, with use of the land granted through a 99-year ground lease.”
In addition to keeping wealth within the organization and being democratically led, CLTs also create a support system to help residents maintain the properties so they do not fall into disrepair—unlike some other low-income housing models which give new residents a key and walk away.
There is some opposition. Gabobe goes on to note some critics’ argument that “because CLTs limit the accrual of equity, they create a ‘second class’ of homeowners, compared with owners of market-value homes. But for those who cannot access the traditional housing market, ownership with less equity is better than no ownership at all. The equity built in a CLT home can sometimes help CLT owners to purchase a home on the open market. For example, according to representatives of Proud Ground CLT in Oregon, of the 15% of homeowners who sell their Proud Ground home, 54% go on to purchase their own home.”
Tres Ríos, through its work to provide affordable housing, will also work to lift and make room for the voices, work, and experiences of volunteers and community members who are marginalized by white supremacy, patriarchy, misogyny, ableism, homophobia, transphobia, settler-colonialism, wage-labor, and other oppressions. They will work to create opportunities for their residents and supporters to thrive and create beautiful things by partnering with individuals and organizations who share the dream of a solidarity economy.
The Tres Ríos bylaws call for a 12-person board of directors, equally made up of interested community members, subject matter experts, and residents of Tres Ríos properties. Black, Indigenous, People of Color, and persons with disabilities are encouraged to participate to ensure Tres Ríos is an organization that is accessible and welcoming to all. Those with the interest and ability to participate, but with no prior experience, will be trained and mentored. Folx with experience in nonprofits, real estate, law, finance, and construction, as well as multilingual community members, are especially encouraged to apply! Organizers hope to accommodate working folx with weekend, evening, or lunch hour meetings as the need presents itself.
Tres Ríos plans to accept donations of property and will fundraise to be able to purchase desirable properties throughout the Tri-Cities. They will also explore other public/private partnership and investment models to build ‘missing middle’ housing, duplexes, fourplexes, and garden apartments.
Tres Ríos is having their first meeting at 2pm April 10 to share their vision and recruit volunteers and supporters. They will elect a board of directors as soon as possible.
In preparation for the upcoming meeting, ‘Ask Me Anything’ events will be offered over the next several weeks. Please bookmark TresRiosCLT.organd follow them on Facebook at TresRiosCLT or Instagram @TresRiosCLTto learn more.
Ginger Wireman is an environmental educator teaching about Hanford cleanup in her day job. She is an active volunteer working to dismantle systemic racism in urban planning, focusing on the intersection of environmental justice and climate change because BIPOC are disproportionately harmed by climate injustices.